Book Review – “The Tower”, by Simon Toyne

I never make New Year Resolutions, as I never keep them.  However, in a previous blog post, I stated that I have made two for 2018, and I was determined to keep them.  The first was to read more.  Books, that is.  I would aim to read at least one book per month.  Some times that’s easier said than done – so should I aim for “12 books in 2018” instead?  No.  That would just put more pressure on me if I don’t finish a book by the end of the month.

Anyway, I can confirm that today (31 January), I have just finished my first book of the year.

The Tower, by Simon Toyne.  First published 2013.  498 pages.  ISBN 978 0 00 739208 7.

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When I bought this book, I didn’t know that this was actually the third of a trilogy (I will point out here that this makes no difference to the reading.  I have not read the previous two books, nor do I intend to…  This book was perfectly readable on its’ own).  Whenever I buy a book, it’s the cover design that grabs my attention first.  If I am drawn to the cover, I will read the description on the back.

REVELATION OR DEVASTATION?

After centuries of secrecy, the forbidden Citadel in the historic Turkish city of Ruin opens its gates.  A deadly disease has ravaged everything within.  Charity worker Gabriel Mann is dying – but may also hold the only cure.

Without him, ex-journalist Liv Adamsen stands alone against those who want her silenced.  However, Liv soon has far bigger concerns than just her own life…

In America, FBI agent Joe Shepherd searches for NASA’s missing head scientist.  His investigation unearths a global conspiracy that is preparing for an event beyond all reckoning.

But nobody is ready for what is coming.  And when it does – it will change everything.

I’m a fussy reader, and the genres I choose are rather eclectic.  Ha ha, a bit like this blog really.  I enjoy reading chick lit; where the main character(s) are women, and is a bit of a romantic comedy.  On the other hand, I have really enjoyed reading conspiracy / thrillers; so the blurb on this book called to me.

I have to admit that it was a little slow in starting off.  It seemed all over the place, as the story focused on different “main” characters, who were in different parts of the world.  I couldn’t get my head around it, but perseverance paid off, as by about chapter 10, I was able to distinguish whose story line I was “playing out”.  10 chapters in may sound like a lot, but the chapters in this book are well written, and are about 3-5 pages long.

I found a lot of the characters likeable.  I was able to somewhat “see” what they were describing, and I did feel a lot of empathy for them.

There were a couple of chapters towards the end of the book that I think happened too fast…  I don’t want to give any spoilers here, but I think three characters story lines were ended rather abruptly.  There was no real build-up to it – it just sort of happened; and to me, there could have been more to it.

The whole book sort of ended quickly too.  All the characters, and the plot was closed, so it didn’t leave me with any unanswered questions, but it really felt like the author had just given up.  “I’m bored, let’s wrap this up”, type of thing.  Which was a shame – especially considering this was the final book in the trilogy.

Overall, I would recommend this to anyone who does like to read conspiracy novels.

My score:

6-out-of-10

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It’s another Blogiversary!

Today celebrates my 6th year of my Insanely Normal blog.

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It’s been fun, although a little slack, and I know that I have said it time and time again, but that can now change…  I have a lot more time to be able to publish, and I have all sorts of ideas!

So, without further ado, let’s revisit my top three posts…

At number 3…

This post has somewhat amused me since I published it in 2014.  It was a review (a negative one at that!  And badly wrote, haha) about a local franchised café.  I can remember visiting the place – it was bloody awful, and I imagine nothing has changed, because I’m still receiving messages agreeing with my post!  You can read about the Pound Café in Huyton here.

At number 2…

2015 seems to have been the year that brought in most of my subscribers (hello stalkers!), and top of the shot (again), was my Christmas Ham post!  My second most popular post in 2015 was for my slow cooker sausage casserole…  With just under 10,000 reads throughout the year, it definitely got the attention it deserved, ha ha.  You can try the slow cooker sausage casserole recipe here.

Drum roll please, because at number 1…

Every Christmas, I make a ham.  It’s by far the best thing I have ever made, and you all seem to agree, as the amount of views that post has received is amazing!  I first published the post in 2012, and it seems to be a recipe that is used right throughout the year, as it’s always my most read…  My “best” stats for this recipe was on 1 December, 2016, when I had a little over 4,000 views – just on that day!  You can read my Christmas Ham here.


So, it seems that my stalkers like recipes and negative reviews!  Ha ha.  Yes, those were my top three posts in the past six years, and other posts in my top ten include more recipes, a holiday post, and how parenthood drives me crazy.

So, here’s to more exciting times – more recipes, more random stuff, and I may even through in a mini-comp somewhere…

Hi. My name is Barbara, and I am a coffeeholic.

Ever since I can remember, I have been a coffee drinker.  My dad used to give me tiny cups (no exaggeration – my mum made me my own little cup in her pottery class – smaller than an espresso cup) of coffee when I was a child (no, there’s no age limit on drinking coffee in the UK).

I can remember waking up on a Sunday morning by the smell of freshly percolated coffee, coming from the kitchen.  Shortly afterwards, the smell of sausage and bacon would follow.  That was my indication that dad was up, and a hearty, full-English breakfast would soon be on the table.  Now-a-days, even though I still love a full-English, it’s known as a ‘heart attack on a plate’.

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So yesterday, I visited a beautiful place called Inglenook Farm (in Rainford, Merseyside) with a friend.  As soon as I stepped out of the car, the distinct smell of lavender hit.

There are a few shops at the farm –

  • African Dream, which sells ‘fair trade’ items such as ornaments, hanging decorations, jewellery and clothes.  The lady that runs the shop visits Kenya and South Africa regularly, and purchases the items directly from the people who make the items.  That way she ensures all monies are going directly to supporting the creators.
  • Boonric Gallery, where beautiful, original paintings and drawings are displayed and sold.  We met one of the artists there, and had a bit of a chat to her whilst admiring her work.
  • The Makery.  Unfortunately this was closed, but it had a sign in the window that stated it had arts and crafts for kiddies.
  • The Farm Shop.  Now, this was a bit of a “bank breaker” for me.  If I had the money, I probably would have bought everything in there.  From fresh, organic fruit and veg grown on the farm, to chocolate and cakes made there.  From handmade, cold-compressed soaps to pure essential oils…  All were made on the farm.  This is where I bought the coffee.
Image courtesy from the Inglenook Farm website

Image courtesy from the Inglenook Farm website

On a shelf, towards the exit of the shop, it was there.  Jars of coffee beans, each with their own distinct flavour, were available to open and smell.

The two coffees that I recall had unusual names…  “Witches Brew” had a coffee strength of “4”.  It smelled strong, but to me, it was more of a Columbian scent of a bean.  Unfortunately, I’m not a fan of Columbian coffee.  The second coffee that I recall was “Devil’s Delight”.  This had a strength of “5”, and a beautiful smell.  I think I could have just eaten the beans directly.

Two options were available for the Devil’s Delight.  Whole beans and ground, for a cafetiere.  I had to purchase the latter, as I am not privileged to own a percolator.

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I did intend on trying the coffee last night, although with having a little Donut around, I thought it best for me just to go to bed instead, ha ha.

This morning, hubby dearest had made me my usual Kenco coffee, but a fussy Donut meant that it had gone cold before I actually managed to drink it.  I was then offered a fresh cup…  I asked him to make a batch of the Devil’s Delight, as I wanted to see what it was like.

The packet was opened, and the smell leaked out of the bag.  Hubby pulled a face, exclaiming “that’s potent!”

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The cafetiere was filled enough for two mugs, and left to stand for a little while.  It was thick – just how I like it…

I’ve always joked, saying that I like my coffee strong enough to stand a spoon up in it.  Looks like I got what I like.

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Well…  I’ve finished my cup.  Yep.  I think it was strong, but I can’t comment.  I’m still feeling as ‘alert’ as I did before.  Which was half asleep.

So now I’m left with an even more grumpy Donut:

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and an incredibly skanky cup to try to clean…

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I’m starting to think that I am immune to the effects of coffee.

Happy Blogiversary to me!!

I’ve done it.  Today is my fourth blogiversary.

From what started as just somewhere to jot down my rants, raves and thoughts, has evolved in to a recipe hoarding, reviewing and parenting site…  Can I be big headed, and say that it has gone from strength to strength..?

Here’s to another four fabulous years x

Pound Cafe – Huyton Village

It’s been a while since I posted here, so why not start again with a review?  🙂

The Pound Cafe in Huyton Village, Merseyside, is attached to the Pound Bakery.  As it says on the tin, everything is £1 (or under)!

Whilst walking through the village, my son and I were on our way back to the car when he said “I want dinner…”.  I was only going to nip in to the bakery, but I thought, ‘why not.  It’s the same price, and we get to have a little sit down too’.

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On entering the Pound Cafe, it was clean, bright, and there were plenty of seats, tables and booths available.  That’s not to say that the place was empty…  There were about 30 or so people in there, all with full cups and half empty plates in front of them.  They all seemed to be enjoying themselves.

I approached an empty booth (in bright green!), and sat my 2 year old down with his new inflatable “Spongebob” toy.  I told him to stay there, to mind the table, and I would go and order for us.

I went to the fridge area first, and picked up a can of 7up.  It was warm.  I checked the other cans and bottles in the refrigeration unit, and they were all the same.  I dread to think what the sandwiches and cakes were like in there…  I let this go though, as temperatures outside were 26C.  Incredibly warm.

The lady behind the counter greeted me with a “what can I get you?”.  No smile, no eye contact, just a gruff voice.

I ordered a child’s sausage roll, chips and beans for William, and a jumbo sausage roll for myself.  I then paid the £2.80 for my order, and I was handed a number sign to place on the table, so the cafe assistant knew where to bring our food to.  The sign was bright orange, with a black laminated piece of paper attached, with a large ’27’ in white.  The sign stand was dirty and greasy.  It looked like they hadn’t bothered to give it a wipe in months.

Wanting to get back, I just grabbed the top of the sign, and returned to my waiting boy.

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20 minutes passed, and I actually asked William (out loud), “how long does it take to put a couple of sausage rolls on a plate?”

A further 10 minutes, and we finally had our plates put down in front of us.

My jumbo sausage roll was delicious.  The pastry was flaky, and the sausage meat was well cooked.  All together, I would certainly give it a 10 out of 10.

My sons, however, did not look as appetising.  He had a plate with a cut-off (not even half) a jumbo sausage roll (the menu stated it would be a full, ‘standard’ sausage roll), a big spoonful of baked beans (that looked like plastic), and the chips were anemic and hard.  That wasn’t the worst part, to be honest.  I wasn’t bothered about the chips, as William had said that he wanted the sausage roll and beans.  Now, if you were a server in a cafe / restaurant, would you serve a child’s meal on a hot plate?  No?  Neither would I.  These, however, did.  The plate was so hot that even I couldn’t touch it.

Back to the food…  William had one fork full of beans, and responded with “I don’t like them.  They’re cold.”  I tasted them, and I agreed.  He then had a bite of the sausage roll…  Soggy pastry, and cold meat.  Work that out.  Hot plate, cold food.

I didn’t bother saying anything.  Even if I did try to speak up, the staff seemed as if they weren’t bothered.  One particular woman who worked there, was busy standing outside (near enough in the doorway!!), smoking a cigarette, and talking to a customer.  She shouted back in to the shop, to a customer, “be with you in a minute, love”.

Overall results:

Jumbo sausage roll – 10/10

Childs’ sausage roll dinner – 0/10

Can of 7up – 9/10 (not the cans’ fault that the fridge didn’t work, although still lost a point for being warm)

I think that I will be sticking to the bakery in the future.

Croxteth Hall and Country Park – Liverpool

A beautiful park in the middle of a busy city isn’t very rare now-a-days.  In fact, it’s quite common place.  Take Central Park, for example.  In the middle of one of the worlds’ most busiest cities, lies 842 acres (1.32 miles²3.41 km²) of stunning greenland and waterways.  I’m talking about New York, of course.  

Now, if I was to say to you, that just on the outskirts of Liverpool city centre, there is 500 acres of greenery, with an historic hall dated around 1575 AD, a well-kept walled garden (bursting with rare roses and other flowers), and a home farm (full of rare breeds of horses, ponies, cows, pigs, sheep and goats (and more)), I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t really stare at me in amazement.  However, to see the beauty of this area is literally breath-taking.  Especially, as aforesaid, knowing that Liverpool city centre is a mere 5 miles away.

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This, ladies and gentlemen, is the ‘main entrance’ to Croxteth Hall.  To tour the house, you must enter through the shop, which is actually part of the servants quarters, around the left hand side of the house.

The Hall was owned, and lived in, by the Molyneux family from the 16th century until 1972, when the last Earl passed away.  His widow, Josephine – Countess of Sefton (1903-1980) continued to reside in the property until she died.  She was the last member of the Molyneux family to live in the hall.

When the last Earl died in 1972, a worldwide search was made for a legal heir to the title without success.  The property and estate is now owned and managed by Liverpool City Council.

You can learn more about the Earls of Sefton by visiting this Wiki page.

The farmstead shows you how a Victorian animal farm was run, and hosts so many animals, many of which are rare breeds.

My little man walked through a picket gate, and he got such a fright when the giant mother sow snorted right behind him…  We counted 8 piglets with this particular mother pig, and there was a big sign showing that throughout February and March, there were 34 piglets born!  We saw a lot of them, from little tiny pinky babies to quite large ‘Irn Bru’ (burnt orange) coloured piglets 🙂

Sheep and lambs, goats and kids…  Two beautiful shire horses (Clydesdale)…  Even an aviary full of cockerels, hens, peacocks, zebra finches (obviously, I was thrilled to see them), budgies, parrots…  It was such fun to see Gning run around looking at all of the animals.  Definitely a place for children 🙂

The country park hosts fields that seem to lead to the clouds, flowers of all different colours (from vibrant reds to subtle blues), trees of all different shapes and sizes (some good enough to climb), and ponds full of various waterfowl.  There is certainly so much more to do than to visit one of the main ‘attractions’ in the estate (the hall, farm or walled garden).  You could take a picnic blanket and a few outdoor games, and you’d be occupied all day.  Go for a walk in one of the surrounding woodlands…

You’d certainly not think that you were only a stones-throw away from the East Lancs Roas, and a bustling city.

The whole estate is actually free to visit, and parking is free too.  However, to actually go inside the hall, walled garden and farm, there are admission fees.

Hall:

Adults £3.50; children and OAP’s £2.70

Walled garden:

Adults £2.50; children and OAP’s £1.90

Farm:

Adults £3.50; children and OAP’s £2.70

Combined ticket for all three of the above:

Adult £7.00; children and OAP’s £5.40

For further info about the hall, click here to visit the official website.

To give you a basic run down, I would say that this is a family day out for all ages.  There’s plenty to see and do for the very young, to the older in life.  If you pay a visit to the hall for instance, and you are pushing a pram or a wheelchair, everywhere inside of the hall is accessible, as there are lifts and ramps 🙂  The farm, although cobbled, is also easy accessible…  And the majority of the pathways around the estate are suitable for all walks of life.

My final scoring for the whole of the property would be 9/10.  I’m sorry to say that they lost a point in all due to no fault of their own, but the smell of stagnant water is empowering, and the farm didn’t seem to help either 😉  Ha ha.

I’ll leave the post with a few photo’s of our little trip 🙂

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Here’s my little man taking a ride on ‘Toby’ the donkey 😀

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Inside the wine cellar

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This actually is a door from the original building, dated from 1575!!

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I would LOVE a kitchen this size!  Although, I don’t envy having to clean it…

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This was the Countess’ dressing room

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The stunning interior of the stairwell

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The Titanic stairwell was actually modeled from this stairwell in Croxteth hall

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My little man looking at a Shetland pony, and a rare shot of my arm!

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Mmmm…  Bacon…  Oops!  I mean, awww…  Look at the baby piggies ❤

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And finally, a beautiful shire horse

Day 39 – Shi’hing School of Kung Fu